by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster
Helen met Pete Seeger for the first time in 1966 near his home in Beacon, New York on the Hudson. Pete was standing on a hay wagon singing and talking to a group of about thirty people about his plan to raise $200,000 to have a boat built to travel up and down the Hudson River. The boat was to be called Clearwater, the name encapsulating the vision of a Hudson cleaned and vibrant, as it flowed along its 400 miles to the Atlantic Ocean.
Helen didn't believe it possible, but soon the money was raised and the Clearwater, built in Maine, cruising the river, stopping at towns along the way which were experiencing the trauma of pollution. Unbridled pollution was destroying fishing and their local economies. Cleaning up the Hudson became one of many shared goals for Pete and Helen, who is a life-long activist for social justice and the environment.
When we talked today Helen shared her memories of Pete, a close friend from that moment in 1966 until his death Monday, January 27, 2014.
In 1970 Helen Carlson and Pete Seeger worked together to raise the consciousness of Americans as the Peace Bell was rung at the first Earth Day, held at the moment of the Spring Equinox. Pete attended and sang at the ceremony regularly from then through last year. And each year Pete was with Helen for her birthday cruise on the Hudson, lighting the occasion with the songs of peace, justice, and care of the Earth, which remain the goals of generations of Americans.
During one of their expeditions on the Clearwater with Helen's children Pete said to her daughter, Janet Carlson, "Be sure not to let schoolwork interfere with your education." Janet remembered the advice, admiring him for it. Helen remembered the pumpkins Pete delivered by wagon along the Hudson and his warmth and sweetness of soul.
Pete learned music from the poorest of the poor in the South while working with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement in 1955 in Alabama. Both believed justice would come through loving others as themselves, learning to forgive. With Doctor King, Pete rejected hate and judgment, making it his goal to bring people together past all divides. The cadences in his music carry images which changed us, flowing into minds and hearts through his actions, words and music.
We will not forget.
Listen to Pete's concert on Helen's Hudson Birthday Cruise, 2010.